CREATIVE HUBS: ZURICH
On first glance, creativity and Zurich don’t go hand in hand. The city is best known for banks, watches, gold-fronted chocolate shops – and rules, like not being able to flush the toilet after 10pm lest you wake your neighbours.
It wasn’t always law and order. During the First World War, with Switzerland being a neutral country, Zurich became a haven for artists and writers. They congregated in a centre known as Cabaret Voltaire and hosted raucous performances of music and the spoken word. The group launched a movement known as Dadaism – a formal rejection of the social, political and cultural values of the early twentieth century that would come to influence pop-music, Surrealism and beat poetry.
Scratch Zurich’s stuffy surface today, and you’ll find it’s more innovative than it’s given credit for. Yes there are toytown spires, cobbled streets and clock towers, but there is also Zurich West, a former industrial district that has transformed into a cultural hub. You can’t miss the area thanks to the Prime Tower, a 126-metre skyscraper that overlooks concert halls, studios, art galleries and on-trend restaurants. A nineteenth-century viaduct has been reinvented as a shopping area with a food hall, while a cluster of shipping containers have been repurposed into Frau Gerolds beer garden. There’s also “The Binz” district, which houses open-air street food markets popular with students.
Switzerland as a whole is home to a host of pioneering startups, including MindMaze, HouseTrip and GetYourGuide. National stereotypes might suggest that Swiss professionals clock in at the bank every morning, but the reality is that 25 per cent of them work as freelancers or entrepreneurs. And according to a study released by Deloitte last year, one-third of the rest are planning to follow suit (no pun intended) within the next year. Co-working spaces such as Impact Hub, Citizen Space and Swiss Startup are dedicated to promoting collaborative practices throughout Zurich.
So, despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Zurich supports a population of creatives, innovators and students alongside its famed millionaires. There’s life in the city yet.
WHERE TO STAY
The spectacular Atlantis first opened in 1970, and is famed for hosting musical stars like Freddie Mercury, ABBA and The Who. It was renovated in 2015, and today looks better than ever before. Its position at the foot of Zurich Uetliberg mountain makes in an ideal launchpad for exploring the woods that surround the city.
One of Zurich’s oldest lodgings, Marktgasse, is spread across three historic townhouses. All of the 34 rooms have wooden floors and a black-and-white palette, while many have tiled stoves and stucco ceilings. Be sure to try the bang bang chicken at the brasserie-style Batho restaurant. Grab a cinnamon roll from Delish Café in the morning.
With cheerful colours, neon light fixtures, lots of greenery and modern illustrations lining the walls, this hotel reflects the youthful spirit of the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Zurich West. The hotel has a Middle-Eastern-themed restaurant which hosts live DJs at the weekend and even has two Minis available for hire, free of charge.
WHAT TO SEE
Zurich is home to over 40 independent art galleries, which are supported by the government and offer an alternative perspective to that of more established institutions. They’re known locally as ‘off-spaces’, and are usually run by artists – check out Dienstgebäude, Ruunion and Counter Space for good examples of the trend.
Ida Gut is a Swiss designer who spent her formative years in Japan. You can tell – her airy shop in Zurich West is filled with pieces that make use of Swiss cuts and eastern fabrics. The result is a delicious mix of elegance and eccentricity in the same vein as Commes des Garcons.
This 1987 brewery was overtaken by squatters in the ’80s, who later gave way to artists of different kinds. It was officially renovated in 2012, and is now home to some of Zurich’s most important contemporary art galleries, including Hauser & Wirth and Kunsthalle Zurich.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Frau Gerolds is a beer garden that began life as a series of shipping containers at the foot of the Prime Tower. It has since become something of an institution, serving up beer and vibrant eats with dramatic views over the railway tracks. Urban gardening classes are available in spring and summer.
Designed by the conceptual artist Rolf Sachs, Saltz is a 3,000-foot-wide restaurant housed inside the Dolder Grand Hotel. Feast on a tasting menu alongside stone sculptures and neon light installations that trace the form of the Swiss Alps.
This modest medieval building is famous for being the legendary birthplace of Dadaism. A visit today is a far cry from the “total pandemonium’ that prevailed in its heyday – yet it’s still worth stopping by for the art museum and a drink in the old-world bar.